It’s hard to believe holiday season is upon us. For some of us that means baking–and eating–more sweets than we should. We know consuming too much sugar has negative health consequences, so let’s explore some alternative sweetening options.

Natural Sweeteners

You might remember the agave nectar trend a few years ago. The sweet syrup, which is about one and a half times sweeter than sugar, became the darling of the diet world because you could use less of it and, due to its lower glycemic index, it didn’t cause a spike in glucose levels like sugar does. But, ounce for ounce, agave nectar contains more fructose than sugar and can produce similar metabolic effects as consuming high-fructose corn syrup.

The same is true for other natural sweeteners including honey, maple syrup, and coconut sugar. While these sweeteners are less processed than sugar and generally contain nutrients that sugar does not, they ultimately contain the same amount of calories and carbs and have the same effect on your waistline as sugar. 

If you’re trying to reduce your refined sugar intake however, these natural sweeteners can all be used for baking. Here’s a cheat sheet on how to substitute natural sweeteners in your baked goods from the folks at Hershey’s.

Artificial Sweeteners

Saccharin, aspartame, and sucralose are the most common synthetic sweeteners. Think pink packet, blue packet, and yellow packet. While all three have had their share of controversial studies linking them to cancers in lab rats, all are FDA approved and deemed safe to consume. Saccharin and sucralose can be used for baking, but aspartame loses its sweetness at high temperatures. Splenda (sucralose) has a granulated product that can be substituted for sugar cup for cup.  

Stevia and Monk Fruit

Newer to the non-nutritive sweetener market are stevia and monk fruit, which are plant-based no-calorie sweeteners. While they are derived from the leaves of the stevia plant and the melon-like monk fruit from Asia, most commercial stevia and monk fruit sweeteners are highly refined and generally blended with other ingredients like erythritol, a sugar alcohol, or dextrose an artificial form of glucose. Both stevia and monk fruit sweeteners are heat stable and come in granulated forms that are designed for baking.

Sugar Alcohols

Keto-friendly diets have embraced sugar substitutes made from sugar alcohols. Some of the most common sugar alcohols are xylitol and erythritol. Low-carb dieters may recognize erythritol by the brand name Swerve. Sugar alcohols are derived from plants, generally corn, and while fermentation does go into the manufacturing process, they are safe for people who don’t consume alcohol. Both can be used for baking, replacing sugar with a simple 1:1 ratio. Be aware that xylitol is very toxic for dogs, so make sure you keep any xylitol-sweetened treats safely out of Fido’s reach.

Whether you’d like to indulge in some sweet treats for the holiday or plan to stick with your healthy eating habits, The Pickled Beet is here to help. We’ll help you plan a weekly menu for individuals, couples or families and deliver healthful, delicious chef-prepared meals to your door. Contact us for a consultation

Mini Berry Sponge Cakes

Gluten-free, dairy-free and low-carb mini cakes made with organic strawberries


  • 8 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • 4 tablespoons powdered monk fruit
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 8 eggs
  • 1 cup strawberries, frozen
  • non dairy whipped cream

Cooking Instructions

Mix the melted butter, coconut flour, sweetener, vanilla and baking powder together until smooth.

Add the eggs one by one, mixing in between each addition.

Pour into a prepared muffin tin

Press each frozen berry evenly into the cake. This allows the berries to be evenly distributed and not clump together. It also stops the cake from turning pink!

Bake at 350F for 20-25 minutes until cooked in the center.

Top with whipped cream and berries

Serves 10

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